How to Recover When You Get Stumped in a Job Interview

How to Recover When You Get Stumped in a Job Interview

Here’s the type of question that stumps people in job interviews.

It is always the crazy, curveball interview questions. They are designed by the company to catch you, the job seeker, off guard.

There is no way you could have prepared for it because no one ever heard the question before!

Companies know the typical interview questions are too easy. The answers have been online for years. Well-rehearsed answers say nothing about you other than your ability to mimic.

They want to know that you can solve problems without getting frustrated. They want to know you can think up ideas for solutions on the spot.

You cannot prepare for these questions. So, here’s the best way to recover when one catches you off guard.

Do not make anything personal

Erase any thought in your head along these lines:

  • “Why are they asking me that?”
  • “Oh no. They are trying to trick me.”
  • “This question is unfair. It has nothing to do with the job.”

These are dangerous, toxic thoughts. They cause you to make the process personal.

Do not forget. Job interviews require preparation because they are not just given to anyone. They are not about you. They are about the company and whether you would be the best hire.

Ask your own questions

Do you really think everyone knows everything all of the time? Your job interview is not an exam with right or wrong answers.

Ask a question that shows the interviewer you are thinking:

  • “Am I understanding your question right? You said [restate the question]. Are you referring to [tell them what you are thinking.]”

This first requires listening to the question, not with intentions to reply, but instead to start a dialogue.

It is ok to start a dialogue with the very people you hope to work with.

Turn the job interview into a collaboration of ideas

They threw the curveball question at you and it left you stumped.

So, turn this opportunity around to show them how to collaborate while defending your capabilities.

Here is an example of what executives can do

You are an executive with exposure to technology and a pro at mergers and acquisitions.

The company asks you a question about the technology used behind a major acquisition you had once led. You are not an engineer. But you know you are a leader who has had hired them.

Try this:

  1. State your ability to lead
  2. Acknowledge that you hired others to cover areas of your weakness
  3. State your results
  4. Invite the interviewers to brainstorm for a moment about a problem they currently have
  5. Share some ideas on how you would lead a team through this challenge

Remind them of your value

Whenever a question has you grasping for an answer, share a safe job story about your career accomplishments that the company will find valuable.

Reveal something about yourself that they will not find online.

Reveal the thing that will make you the company’s secret weapon.


  • “So, how would you solve the ongoing problem of [insert company dilemma].”


  • “This very question reminds me of experiences I had solving the very same problem. I was once [reveal hidden amazing secret] and I had traveled the world to [insert how you learned to solve the problem].”

The positive side of curveball interview questions that leave you stumped is that it gives you the chance to speak your mind a bit about why you applied for such a great job in the first place.

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